PENGUIN PROTECTION

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By Melissa D’Amico

The safety of St Kilda’s most popular little locals, the fairy penguins, has been of grave concern recently.  Violent attacks and a killing by trespassers of the protected colony disgusted many across the community.

In April the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville, announced $250,000 over four years to protect and monitor the iconic penguin colony.  She stated, “Better surveillance and better protection of the colony is crucial following recent attacks and will help protect the penguins as they make their way from the sea every evening.”

Volunteers of Earthcare St Kilda reported an incident on their Facebook page on Good Friday, setting off a social media storm.  The Age then reported that it wasn’t an isolated incident, and a German tourist had seen a penguin being kicked only a fortnight earlier. It was later found dead.  This urged a call for further protection for the popular penguins, as well as video monitoring to capture offenders.  In relation to these attacks RSPCA inspector Michelle Green told SBS “Violence against animals is certainly becoming more prevalent in society these days.”

Observing ‘The St Kilda Fairy Penguins’ return to land at sunset attracts thousands of visitors, which is reflected on tripadvisor.com where it is highly rated, but unfortunately the penguins attract unsavoury visitors too.  Earthcare volunteers provide penguin guides for visitors in the evenings, but in the early hours of the morning when then attackers have hit, the penguins are completely vulnerable.

The rock breakwater was built in 1956 to better protect the boats in the harbour.  It is thought that Phillip Island penguins may have started visiting soon after.  The first two nesting couples were recorded in 1974 and by the late 1980’s Earthcare St Kilda was given the role of custodians of the colony.  For the past 30 years the penguin population, now around 1000, has been part of a study. The results also have a wider impact reflecting the marine environment in Port Phillip.

Two-thirds of the breakwater is fenced off by a gate which can be easily scaled and needs repair.  Signage at the site is vandalised and fails to deter offenders.  The rocks at the entry of the breakwater are accessible to fishermen and visitors who can freely walk over them.  This intrudes directly on their habitat, leaving the penguins vulnerable to other types of injuries too, from fishing hooks to selfie-sticks.

The State governments funding will go towards ‘increased patrols, community education and the use of surveillance cameras’ which could assist in apprehending offenders.

It was added that ‘Penguin-friendly fencing will be erected between the rock wall and the pier to restrict access but maintain vantage points for onlookers, with consultation to take place to ensure the fencing does not impact the visitor experience.  New signage will also be installed to help educate visitors about penguins and how they can help keep the penguins safe.’

Various stakeholders and the experts of wildlife groups will be in consultation to improve the future wellbeing of the little penguins.

The DEWLP facebook page has stated ‘If you observe suspicious behaviour or see an incident at the Little Penguin colony, you can contact DELWP Customer Service Centre on 136 186’

 

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